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Arlo Mckinnon
Opera News, December 2013

Rappahannock County could not have received a finer performance than that heard here. All cast members gave strong, versatile portrayals in their multitudinous roles, without a weak link to be found among them. The Virginia Arts Council Orchestra offered a fine, polished performance under the elegant direction of Rob Fisher.

The Naxos release also includes a moving performance of Gordon’s 2001 song cycle Late Afternoon. The music is deeply heartfelt and compelling. Mezzo Margaret Lattimore brings these songs to life in a performance of great sensitivity and passion, very ably accompanied at the piano by the composer. This is an inspired work, given a performance that lingers in the listener’s memory. © 2013 Opera News Read complete review



Richard Sininger
American Record Guide, November 2013

…Mr Gordon’s music is not disappointing. This is a really fine work.

The songs are well sung by mezzo Margaret Lattimore, accompanied by Mr Gordon. © 2013 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide



Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, June 2013

Performances are all very good. All in all this is vocal music anybody interested in the contemporary should hear. © 2013 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review



Steven Bergman
EDGE Atlanta, May 2013

…the five singers give yeoman performances, playing multiple roles throughout the cycle. Baritone Mark Walters, mezzo Faith Sherman, tenor Matthew Tuell, baritone Kevin Moreno and soprano Aundi Marie Moore deliver beautiful performances of Gordon’s score under the able baton of Rob Fisher. © 2013 EDGE Atlanta Read complete review



Joseph Newsome
Voix des Arts, May 2013

…Mr. Gordon conjures musical vignettes that match the emotional colors of each scene. Mr. Gordon’s music unfailingly allows Mr. Campbell’s words to be heard clearly, shaping the drama without imposing cheap effects or making obvious, hackneyed choices of tonal painting. Both librettist and composer offer memorable creations, which combine in a score that is as approachably beautiful as it is challengingly varied in tone, musically and dramatically.

Shaped by the assured conducting of Maestro Rob Fisher, the Virginia Arts Festival Orchestra…plays with complete dedication to the score, bringing intellectual interpretation worthy of a performance of a score by Mozart or Mahler and ‘swing’ that rivals the best playing of ragtime bands. Throughout the performance, the instrumentalists of the Virginia Arts Festival Orchestra seize every opportunity for stylish playing, no matter the style of the music at hand. Maestro Fisher, an acclaimed conductor of musical theatre scores, displays an authentic understanding of Mr. Campbell’s and Mr. Gordon’s work, pacing each scene with ideal attention to its nuances, revealing humor even in despondency and menace even in joy.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this recording of the première production of Rappahannock County is the consistent excellence of the cast of vocalists, each member of which faces difficulties of dramatic expression, textural delivery, and musical technique. Though composed in a style that mostly avoids the histrionics of ‘traditional’ opera, Mr. Gordon’s score nonetheless presents challenges to each of the soloists, and there are few performances of new music in which the vocal demands are met with the level of achievement heard in this performance. Baritone Mark Walters, an accomplished performer of contemporary music, excels in each of his rôles, launching the performance with a ringing account of the ‘sermon’ of Reverend Zachariah Springer. Mr. Walters possesses the sort of burly but beautiful voice that would be heard with great pleasure in a rôle like Britten’s Billy Budd, and he sings with poise and stirring vigor throughout this performance. He is seconded by Philadelphia-born baritone Kevin Moreno, whose singing of ‘boy slave’ Reuben Lark’s ‘Being small ain’t all that bad’ is charmingly unaffected. Mr. Moreno is an impressive young singer who, based upon his eloquent singing in this performance, seems on his way to becoming one of America’s finest baritones.

To mezzo-soprano Faith Sherman fall several of the score’s trickiest numbers, and she shines in every scene in which she appears. Soprano Aundi Marie Moore also displays a voice of great quality and superb dramatic sensibilities…

Mr. Tuell possesses a lovely, plangent voice, which he uses with great care for placement of tone in order to preserve clarity of diction even in the upper register. His singing is accomplished with an audibly assured technique, free from artifice, and there is an exciting edge to the timbre that allows him to mostly avoid forcing the voice even on his highest notes. Dramatically, Mr. Tuell’s adaptability and directness complement those of his castmates, and all five soloists contribute to an unusual but very effective ensemble. Equally effective, though she does not appear in Rappahannock County, is mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, whose gorgeous performance of Mr. Gordon’s song cycle Late Afternoon, accompanied by the composer, is included by NAXOS on the recording’s second disc.

Beyond the casualty figures and details of battlefield strategies recounted in books, the Civil War was a cataclysm in ordinary life, a time of deprivation and depravity, of mothers burying sons, of wives longing for news of their husbands, of boys denied manhood by bullets and bayonets. Mr. Campbell and Mr. Gordon have created a depiction of this milestone in the history of the United States that is not one of generals on horseback, deafening cannonades, and grandiose ideals of succession or Reconstruction: performed with honesty and impeccable musicality and recorded by NAXOS with presence and imagination, Rappahannock County proves a moving portrait of the wondrous pragmatism of America in some of her darkest hours and, in its unmistakable faith in the most basic will to endure, of the essence of the Old Dominion. © Voix des Arts Read complete review



David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2013

To encompass the whole of the American Civil War in a work lasting around ninety minutes was the task that Ricky Ian Gordon and his librettist set themselves. Though this release has been included in Naxos’s American Opera Classics, it is a piece of music theatre, or, to be even more factual, a series of songs for five soloists who take the part of the thirty characters in the story. Mostly serious, with just a few isolated moments of comedy, the pace of the work is generally of a modest gait, with the orchestra cast in the role of accompaniment with short interlinking Interludes. The work’s title, Rappahannock County takes its name for the river at the divide of the North and South and is indicative of the bloody war that lasted over four years. Maybe I was expecting moments of real angst and sadness, but the music has that uncomplicated and customer-friendly tonality that makes for an unpretentious score. Gordon’s name is little known on my side of the Atlantic, a fact he shares with almost every other 20th century American song writer, though he is a composer who has been much performed in the States by leading singers, and here he combines with the librettist Mark Campbell, an opera composer with nine works to his credit. To complete the two discs, Late Afternoon is a cycle of six songs written over a number of years and first performed in its entirety in 2011 and scored for mezzo and piano. The performance of Rappahannock County comes from its first public performance in Norfolk, Virginia, in April 2011, and is given by singers mainly from the world of opera,  much resting on the acclaimed mezzo, Faith Sherman. I did feel that Gordon should have allocated her role to a soprano, but among the other singers, the baritone, Kevin Moreno, is outstanding. Late Afternoon brings together the mezzo, Margaret Lattimore, and the composer at the piano, her voice highly attractive. The recording of the opera is reliable… The booklet contains the words for both works. © David’s Review Corner



Wes Blomster
Opera Today

The acclaim accorded Rappahannock County by the 2,200 people who packed Norfolk’s Harrison Opera House for the premiere made clear that Gordon and Campbell had achieved their goal. The work, described by Gordon as “a series of snapshots of life and loss during the war,” makes no attempt at narrative unity, but focuses rather on intensely emotional moments in the lives of 30 individuals portrayed in Norfolk by five extremely talented young singers. Indeed, soprano Aundi Marie Moore, mezzo Faith Sherman, tenor Matthew Tuell and baritones Kevin Moreno and Mark Walters were an unusually well balanced group of singers who clearly had taken the message of this stellar new work to heart. For the texts Campbell created a language magnificently suited to their contents. It reflects the period and the events described with no attempt at dialect-like coloring. Wisely, the texts were projected as supertitles during the performance.

The 17-pieces orchestra—Rob Fisher conducted Mr. Gordon’s and Bruce Couglin’s orchestration of the score—played behind a scrim, on which were projected telling visuals designed by Wendall Harrington. They included actual photographs along with landscapes and documents that contributed much to the easy flow of the score. © Opera Today






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